A Canadian soldier was killed and two others were wounded Sunday in firefights as coalition troops continue trying to sweep Taliban insurgents from an area west of Kandahar City.
Corporal Anthony Joseph Boneca, 21, a reservist from the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment based in Thunder Bay, Ont., died Sunday morning, military officials said.
Cpl. Boneca, fighting as part of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry battle group, was killed as troops were mounting aggressive patrols near the village of Pashmol, an area that has been a hotbed of Taliban activity over the past few months.
"There has been lots of contact. But unfortunately we have suffered the tragic loss of Cpl. Boneca," said Brigadier-General David Fraser, the Canadian commander on the multinational brigade in Kandahar.
"We really do have to admire his professionalism and his heroic efforts to help out people less fortunate than ours. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and friends."
A member of the slain soldier's family contacted at his parent's house in Thunder Bay said Cpl. Boneca had been in the reserves for about four years, having joined immediately after high school.
He was not married but had a "very lovely girlfriend" whom he had been seeing for well over a year, said Elizabeth Babe, 63, an aunt.
Cpl. Boneca, who started out in the militia, had previously done tours that included guard duty in the United Arab Emirates that involved a couple of trips to Kabul before he arrived in southern Afghanistan in February, she said.
"He was always interested in the army," Ms. Babe added. "He just came home from one tour, worked a bit around, and signed up for the second tour."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Sunday expressing his condolences to Cpl. Boneca's family and friends.
"Our prayers are with the loved ones of Cpl. Boneca in these difficult times, and we stand proudly as a nation knowing that his sacrifice was not in vain; that he laid down his life for the safety of citizens in both Canada and Afghanistan," Mr. Harper said.
A few hours after Cpl. Boneca was hit, two other Canadian soldiers were wounded in action in the same area. Both were flown by helicopter to hospital at the international coalition base. Their injuries were described as non-life threatening.
Two other Canadians were wounded Saturday, one seriously, in a firefight in the same general area.
Troops of the battle group and the Afghan National Army were slowly combing through the area of mud-hut villages and lush fields of grapes, marijuana and other crops in search of the insurgents.
"Canadian soldiers are sweeping through the area removing the threat the Taliban pose to the Afghan people," said Lieutenant-Commander Mark MacIntyre, a Canadian Forces spokesman. "They are conducting aggressive patrols and coming into contact with the enemy. There have been numerous skirmishes in the past 24 hours."
Word of Cpl. Boneca's death spread quickly among the troops back at the international coalition base.
Master Cpl. Will Emsle, a fellow reservist who trained with Cpl. Boneca, said the reality of losing his friend had not completely sunk in yet.
"I was surprised. I was really shocked," said MCpl. Emsle, who is from Calgary. "He was a real joker. He loved to joke around. He was a good guy."
No soldier ever imagines they will get hurt, let alone die, he said.
"You just don't think about it, to be honest with you. You can't think about it. But it is in the back of your mind when you go out there. It is just the line of work we do and these are the risks."
That threat was driven home Sunday evening when the coalition base was hit by a number of rockets.
While there was no immediate word on casualties, at least two ambulances were seen racing to the hospital with their emergency lights flashing.
A Canadian flag was lowered to half-mast at a small memorial that commemorates soldiers who have died in Afghanistan.
The Pashmol area has been a major gathering point for Taliban, who have been ambushing convoys and attacking Afghan National Police outposts.
Canadian troops have defeated the insurgents in every major engagement in the region since May. But when coalition activity subsides, the Taliban regroup and become more active again.
Coalition troops are to assemble for a ceremony Monday morning at Kandahar airfield to pay tribute to Cpl. Boneca, the 17th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan.
His flag-draped coffin is to be loaded onto an air transport for the flight back to Canada.